Returning last night by plane from a trip with a self-imposed news blackout, I was pleased to learn through a small-ish piece in the inside pages of the International Herald Tribune that Gary Dobson and David Norris had been found guilty of the murder, 18 years ago, of Stephen Lawrence—one of the most important domestic news stories of my lifetime. Hungry for more, I gazed at the Daily Mail over the shoulder of a woman in the next aisle. When I saw that she was reading about the Lawrence story on (I think) page 13 or 14, my first thought was that the Mail had buried it. But after borrowing the paper, I saw that the coverage, relatively far back in the paper, was part of a package that started on page one, and which called for the other three suspects—Neil and Jamie Acourt and Luke Knight—to be jailed as well. Impressive.
And I have to say I thought that Mail Editor Paul Dacre’s piece in the same edition, describing his 1997 decision to run pictures of the five under the headline “MURDERERS: The Mail accuses these men of killing. If we are wrong, let them sue us” was impressive too. Dacre’s unqualified attack on “the utter disgrace that was the original investigation” was as surprising as it was pleasing. But perhaps the most important line in the piece was this: “It was, I believe, a highly significant moment—the first time that many people in Britain realised that black readers were as important to the Mail as white ones.” Of course, there may be some self-serving going on here in the context of the ongoing Leveson inquiry. But, whether or not you agree with the Mail that its 1997 headline led to this week’s convictions, Dacre’s statement at least is historic.